High Energy Particles - IGBIS

The Grade 12 physics class observing condensed vapour trails in a jar which show evidence of high energy particles flying through the atmosphere.

Every day there are millions and millions of subatomic (smaller than an atom) particles which pass through your body. These high energy particles belong to the lepton family (which includes the electron, muon, tau particle, and their neutrino equivalents) and are considered to be 6 of the 12 fundamental particles included in the Standard Model. Physicists believe these particles, along with quarks, are the smallest components of matter. The origin of these high energy particles is exploding stars.

Supernova explode with such force they rip apart the hydrogen and helium atoms into their smaller constituents of protons and neutrons which are then shot through space as cosmic rays. When these cosmic rays interact with the earth’s atmosphere they decay into showers of leptons. About 600 of these harmless particles pass through you each second. These particles are difficult to detect as they have a very high energy and pass through most materials, with no interaction. Occasionally we are able to observe the effect of these particles.

The Grade 12 physics class was able to see evidence of these energetic particles using a self made cloud chamber. Dry ice was used to cool a container containing ethanol vapours. As leptons with the correct energy passed through the jar, they caused the vapour to condense into thin lines of visible clouds. Over a few brief minutes, students were able to see lines, swirls, and puffs of ethanol cloud, showing evidence of these high energy particles. More information on this experiment can be found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/subatomic-particles.html.

Scott Cameron,
Coordinator of Science and Mathematics

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